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THE TIGER HUNTER (2016) review

September 21, 2017



written by: Lena Khan and Sameer Asad Gardezi
produced by: Megha Kadakia, Lena Khan and Nadia Khan
directed by: Lena Khan
rated: unrated
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: September 22, 2017 (limited)


If this summer’s “The Big Sick” was your first exposure to certain South Asian customs and traditions, such as prearranged marriage and you find your curiosity piqued, then check out “The Tiger Hunter”. It follows the immigrant experience as a whole more than it deals with the pressure of meeting your future spouse, although marriage definitely is on the mind of our protagonist here. The dramedy is a warmhearted fish-out-of-water period piece from director Lena Khan, making her feature-length debut and it comes across almost like an autobiographical tale, or at least an amalgam of assimilation stories that have been passed down. The refreshingly sweet and wholesome tone of the story feels like the kind of movie that no one makes anymore – free of lewd laughs or cynicism and (gasp) full of heart.

The story is set in 1979, when a young engineer named Sami Malik (earnestly played by Danny Pudi “Community”) who decides to follow thru with his dream, leaving his village in India to pursue an engineering career in the United States. He retells his story, how he grew up under the care of a loving mother and the support of a community who knew him, under the legacy of his deceased father, who was known as a formidable tiger hunter. Sami accepts a job in Chicago at a manufacturing firm, hoping to put his engineering education to good use and make a name for himself in America. His dream is to make a lot of money and fly his childhood love to the States, so they can spend the rest of their lives together, making both their families proud.




Unfortunately, downsizing finds him taking a job as a draftsman in the company’s cramped basement where he is to prepare technical drawings for the engineers above him. He befriends Alex (Jon Heder “Napoleon Dynamite”), an easy-going fellow draftsman and son of the CEO (Kevin Pollack) who shows Sami around, getting the new hire accustomed to the politics of the workplace. One day in the park, Sami is met by Babu (Rizwan Manji “Outsourced”), a Pakistani peer who offers him a place to stay in a nearby Chicago one-bedroom apartment. Sami he learns is also home to about a dozen other fellow South Asian immigrants who are making ends meet in menial jobs, despite being professionally trained in specific fields just like himself.

As the window starts to close on his 30-day visa, Sami is determined to make his way up the corporate ladder and be a “professional American” he’ll have to do so along with his co-workers. He’ll do anything to avoid disappointing his mother back home and all the villagers who are sure of his success (and helped pay for airfare to America), but most of all his childhood friend, Ruby (Karen David “Once Upon a Time”), whom he hopes to one day marry.

While the “stranger in a strange land” angle has been covered countless times, there’s always something endearing about a character leaving their home to follow their dreams in a foreign land, be it a drama or a comedy. Khan, who co-wrote this story with Sameer Asad Gradezi, uses the late 70’s setting to her advantage with the distinctive polyester of the time sticking out just as much as Pudi’s affable and optimistic Sami. It also helps that they write their protagonist as bewildered and somewhat overwhelmed, yet not a goof or a naive boob like so many South Asians have been portrayed in past movies. The writers succinctly establish Sami’s memories of his noble father as motivation for his drive and determination. Best of all, the humor feels authentic and gradual, never hitting us over the head with forced laughs, without getting over-sentimental.








As a main character in a comedy, Pudi is a natural and he’s assissted by a cast of great supporting actors who add great personality to the movie. This becomes especially apparent when we’re introduced to all of Sami’s new roommates. Manji’s boisterous Babu steals a few scenes, but I also got a kick out of performances from Parvesh Cheena and Kunal Dudheker, who play some of the other roommates. They’re comical, but also believable and come across as real people. If only David’s Ruby was given more dimensions to her role as the love interest, instead of being relegated to the familiar sweetheart stereotype we’re used to. When they’re together, Pudi and David have a natural connection, it’s just that the character of Sami is given more to work with than the role of Ruby.

What surprised me the most about “The Tiger Hunter” is the visual vibrancy of the picture. From the scenes in Sami’s village to the Chicago circa 1979, the look of the movie is colorful thanks to cinematographer Patrice Cochet’s Polaroid-saturated camerawork and the period perfect sets of Michael Fitzgerald. Both lend their obvious talents to the director’s vision, making Khan’s immigrant story almost feels like flipping through old photo albums or watching someone’s home movies from the era.





“The Tiger Hunter” is a confident feature-length debut for Khan, who’s previously worked on shorts and music videos. She deftly handles combining relatable themes such as pursuing a career and honoring family, while ultimately coming to terms with what kind of person you want to be.

The movie has already won multiple awards, including best director and best ensemble cast during its world-premiere last year at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, but it’s a shame it won’t be in more theaters for more than just a couple weeks. Hopefully, it will find an audience in various streaming formats, but it’s still a shame that  such a movie can’t get the marketing or audience needed to earn more than a blip on a moviegoer’s radar.

I mentioned above that “The Tiger Hunter” is full of heart. That’s something that may be a deterrent for some who could feel like the movie is too earnest and goes out of its way to convey a feel-good vibe. To that I say: so be it. That kind of response simply confirms that we need more movies like this.




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